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Friday, August 21, 2020, 22:18
S'pore to allow NZ, Brunei visitors in 1st border easing
By Agencies
Friday, August 21, 2020, 22:18 By Agencies

A man walks along the transit area at Changi International Airport terminal in Singapore on June 8, 2020, as Singapore prepares to reopen its borders after shutting them to curb the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

TOKYO / JERUSALEM / RAMALLAH / SEOUL / SINGAPORE CITY - Singapore on Friday said it would reopen its borders to visitors from New Zealand and Brunei from next month, in the city-state’s first steps towards resuming leisure travel since it sealed its borders to control COVID-19 outbreaks.

The city-state, which currently only allows official and business travel to selected countries, also said it would allow students to travel for study overseas if distance-learning was not available.

The measures would take effect on Sept 1, with various restrictions, the health ministry said.

Researchers in Singapore have discovered a new variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus that causes milder infections, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal this week.

The study showed that COVID-19 patients infected with a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 had better clinical outcomes, including a lower proportion developing low blood oxygen or requiring intensive care.

The study also showed the variant, which has a large deletion in a part of its genome, elicited a more robust immune response.

The study involved researchers from various Singapore institutions, including the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), the Duke-NUS Medical School and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

A health worker, left, collects a nasal swab from a child as others restrain him during a COVID-19 screening in Mumbai on August 19, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

India

A jump in coronavirus infections on Friday pushed India closer to the 3 million mark, piling pressure on authorities to prevent huge gatherings this weekend as Mumbai celebrates the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesh.

For most of western India, especially the country’s financial capital, Ganesh Chaturthi marks the beginning of an 11-day festival usually marked by big public celebrations.

Social media was flooded with pictures of shoppers crowding markets to buy flowers and sweets, but it is expected to be a quieter Ganesh festival this year.

India reported 68,898 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours - the third straight daily increase above 60,000 - taking the total to 2.91 million, the third worst in the world after the United States and Brazil

Deaths increased by 983 to 54,849.

People wearing face masks cross a street in Seoul on Aug 20, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

South Korea

South Korean health authorities warned on Friday that a cluster of coronavirus infections in the capital Seoul was threatening to spread after thousands of people attended a rally by conservative political groups last week.

While many of the current spike in cases have been among members of a church, some of whom attended the rally, officials say more people need to come forward and be tested to head off an uncontrollable outbreak.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 324 new cases as of midnight Thursday, bringing the country’s total to 16,670, with 309 deaths. It was the highest daily count since March 8.

“This is a very serious situation,” Vice-Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

The government is trying gather the names of everyone who attended the rally, as well as the names of the drivers who drove attendees from the provinces, he said.

To that end, health investigators and police had obtained the cellphone location data of at least 12,000 people who had been in the area, and were seeking to convince the church to hand over a full list of its members, Kim said.

In Seoul and some surrounding cities, the government has reimposed social distancing rules, including restricting large gatherings, banning in-person church meetings while closing nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cyber cafes.

For the third week in a row, thousands of South Korea doctors staged a strike on Friday to protest government plans to train new doctors.

The government plans to increase the number of medical students by 4,000 over the next 10 years, which it says is necessary to be better prepared for public health crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Korean Medical Association (KMA), which helped organise the protests, says the country already has more than enough physicians.

A woman wearing a face mask crosses a street in Tokyo on July 20, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

Japan

Japan’s current wave of coronavirus infections has more or less reached its nationwide peak, said Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s virus advisory panel.

Japan saw a second wave of infections that started a few weeks ago after opening the economy following a period under a state of emergency. The country reported 1,185 new infections on Thursday, according to NHK, down from a peak of more than 1,600 seen on Aug 7.

Japan plans to ease its COVID-19 entry restrictions on foreign nationals with resident visas starting next month, public broadcaster NHK reported, after an outcry over the emotional and economic hardship that the measures are inflicting.

Re-entry will be permitted for visa holders, including permanent residents and exchange students, on condition that they undergo coronavirus testing and quarantine for 14 days, the same policy that applies to Japanese citizens re-entering the country, NHK reported on Friday.

A consular official with Japan’s foreign ministry said there was “no decision yet” on easing border restrictions.

Japan’s travel curbs to battle the pandemic are among the world’s strictest, effectively banning entry with few exceptions of not only tourists but long-term visa holders from more than 140 countries.

That means many permanent and other long-term residents who have made Japan their home remain stuck outside the country, unable to carry on with their livelihoods and suffering enormous financial pain as bills pile up.

Others face agonising decisions such as whether to leave Japan to attend a funeral or care for a sick family member, for fear they will not be allowed back.

NHK said the government had received “many opinions” calling on it to relax the restrictions for the resumption of social and economic activities.

About 2.6 million foreigners have residence status, and the government plans to expand testing at airports to accommodate the expected increase in traffic after the easing of the restrictions, NHK said.

The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 258 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, dipping below Thursday's 339 cases, but remaining above the average seven-day tally of 256.6.

Of the 258 people newly testing positive for coronavirus, 137 of them were aged in their 20s and 30s, accounting for about 53 percent of the total. Those in their 40s and 50s totaled 73, comprising 28 percent of the latest tally.

New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday deferred a decision on whether to ease a lockdown on the city of Auckland as 11 new coronavirus infections were reported, including nine cases of community transmission.

New Zealand’s biggest city was placed in lockdown earlier this month until Aug 26 amid a spike in new cases, forcing businesses to close and schools to shut.

Ardern said after a review of the lockdown that there was no need to change any settings at this stage, and promised to review them again on Monday.

“We have made good progress. Unlike our first lockdown we are not dealing with multiple outbreaks,” she said at a news conference.

“There is nothing to suggest we need change our course and certainly nothing that suggests that we need to escalate our response.”

The latest cases brought the total in New Zealand to 1,315, including 105 active cases. The country of 5 million people has reported 22 deaths

Australia

Australia headed for its lowest daily increase in coronavirus infections in five weeks on Friday as the hotspot state of Victoria neared the midway point of lockdown, prompting the prime minister to hail “a week of increased hope”.

While the rest of Australia eases restrictions, the home state of a quarter of its population is in a six-week lockdown due to a second wave of virus infections.

Victoria reported 179 new cases in the past 24 hours, from 240 a day earlier and down from over 700 a day two weeks ago. The state reported nine deaths.

The country’s most populous state, neighbouring New South Wales, reported just one new case as an emergency cabinet of state and federal leaders discussed the prospect of relaxing closures of state borders that have been in place for months.

“Today’s meeting of national cabinet came during what I would describe as a week of increased hope,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a televised news conference.

“We’re doing better than most and many of the developed world in this situation.”

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said new case numbers in his state had fallen faster than he expected after the state imposed a nightly curfew and shuttered many businesses.

“We are all pleased to see a ‘one’ in front of these additional case numbers,” Andrews said. “To be at this point shows that the strategy is working.”

With cases in Victoria declining and low or zero levels of infections elsewhere - some states had yet to report daily figures by mid-afternoon - business leaders have called for an easing of internal travel restrictions to alleviate the blow to business and the economy.

ALSO READ: Virus: Iraq's tally of COVID-19 cases exceeds 190,000

Israel

The Israeli health ministry reported 1,630 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the total number in the country to 99,599.

The death toll reached 795, with 16 new fatalities, while the number of patients in serious condition dropped from 398 to 389, out of 778 patients currently hospitalized.

The number of recoveries reached 74,579, with 1,487 new recoveries, while the number of active cases rose to 24,225.

Syria

The Syrian health ministry on Thursday reported 81 new COVID-19 cases in government-controlled areas, raising the total number to 2,008, state news agency SANA reported.

A total of 460 have recovered from the virus and 82 died since the first coronavirus case was reported in Syria in March, SANA said.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog, said 59 infections have been reported in the rebel-held areas in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo in northern Syria since July 9.

In addition, the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said 280 cases have so far been reported in Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria. 

Turkey

Turkey confirmed 1,412 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the total diagnosed cases to 254,520, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Meanwhile, 19 people died from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll in Turkey to 6,058, Koca tweeted.

Turkish health professionals conducted 92,301 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall number of tests to 6,061,930.

A total of 882 patients recovered in the last 24 hours, raising the total recoveries to 234,797 in Turkey since the outbreak on March 11, Koca added.

Palestine

Palestine recorded on Thursday 514 new COVID-19 cases in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, raising the total number of infections in the Palestinian territories to 23,941.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a press statement that 324 cases were reported in the West Bank, 167 in East Jerusalem and 23 in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, five fatalities were reported in the West Bank city of Hebron, bringing the death toll to 132, al-Kaila added.

Yemen

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Yemen's government-controlled provinces increased to 1,899 on Thursday after seven new infections were confirmed.

Meanwhile, the number of recoveries in the government-controlled areas increased to 1,058 during the past 24 hours, while the death toll climbed to 541, the Yemeni Health Ministry said in a brief press statement.

Lebanon

Lebanon imposed a partial lockdown for two weeks starting on Friday in an effort to counter COVID-19 infections which have spiralled since the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port.

The spread of COVID-19 is compounding the woes of a country still reeling from the Aug. 4 blast that killed at least 179 people and wounded some 6,000, and a financial meltdown that has devastated the economy since October.

Lebanon recorded its highest 24-hour tally of new infections on Thursday, with 613 new cases. The infections have spread in the aftermath of the blast as hospitals were flooded with the casualties, medics say.

The shutdown, which includes a curfew from 6pm to 6am, allows for clearing rubble, making repairs and giving out aid in neighbourhoods demolished by the explosion. The airport will remain open, with travelers having to take a PCR test before boarding and on arrival.

Qatar

The Qatari health ministry on Thursday announced 268 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 116,224, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 266 more recovered from the virus, bringing the total recoveries to 112,924, while the fatalities remained 193 as no new deaths were reported, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.

A total of 572,273 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far.

Oman

The Omani Health Ministry on Thursday announced 163 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 83,769, the official Oman News Agency (ONA) reported.

Meanwhile, the overall number of recoveries reached 78,386, while the death toll increased by six to a total of 609, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.

The ministry added that 151 patients are currently receiving intensive care treatment.

Myanmar

Myanmar has locked down the capital of Rakhine State after an outbreak of a novel coronavirus strain that officials said was more infectious than that previously seen in the country.

Nineteen people have tested positive for the virus in the western region since Monday, health officials said on Friday, the first local transmission in Myanmar in months, bringing its total number of cases to 409.

The vast majority of the recent cases have been in the town of Sittwe, where officials have issued a stay-at-home order and imposed a curfew. Domestic airlines have suspended services between Sittwe and the commercial capital of Yangon.

A total of eight COVID-19 patients have recovered after receiving convalescent plasma therapy so far in Myanmar, a health official told a press conference on Thursday.

Extracting convalescent plasma, liquid part of blood from former patients who have recovered from the disease, the plasma therapy will be used in treating patients who are severe health condition, he said.

READ MORE: South Korea at 'critical juncture' in fight against COVID-19

The United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates could reintroduce a de-facto overnight curfew in some areas of the country if there are a high number of COVID-19 infections there, a government official said.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday announced 461 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 65,802.

UAE's Ministry of Health and Prevention said in a statement that 131 more patients have recovered from the virus, taking the tally of recoveries in the UAE to 58,153.

It also confirmed two more deaths, pushing the country's death toll to 369.

Maldives 

The Maldives has reported 145 new cases of COVID-19, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

A total of 123 Maldivian citizens and 22 foreign citizens tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, raising the total case count to 6,370, according to the HPA.

Of the new cases, 142 were reported from the capital region of Greater Male, while the remaining three were reported from other islands.

The HPA said that the country currently has 2,431 active cases of COVID-19 spread across 21 islands and 10 resorts.

A total of 1,355 individuals are currently being held in isolation facilities, while 161 infected patients have been hospitalized for treatment.

Thailand

Thailand's Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Friday extended emergency rule against the pandemic until Sept 30.

CCSA spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin confirmed that the emergency decree has been extended for a fifth consecutive month until September 30. It was earlier scheduled to last until Aug. 31.

Emergency rule has been officially considered necessary to cope with the pandemic, the CCSA spokesman said.

Nevertheless, restrictions under anti-pandemic measures have been largely eased up to the extent that schools, public transport systems, spectators in stadiums and entertainment venues have practically reopened more or less in social distancing order, according to the spokesman.

Kyrgyzstan 

Kyrgyzstan reported 196 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, raising its tally of infections to 42,803.

Nurbolot Usenbaev, the country's deputy health minister, said during an online news briefing that of the total number of infected, 3,073 are medical workers, including 14 new cases.

He also reported the recovery of 345 patients over the past day, bringing the country's total recoveries to 35,486. Meanwhile, 1,230 patients are still receiving treatment.

One more virus-related death has been recorded in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 1,055.

Indonesia 

The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 2,197 within one day to 149,408, with the death toll adding by 82 to 6,500, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

According to the ministry, 2,317 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 102,991.

The virus has spread to all the country's 34 provinces.

The Philippines

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines soared to 182,365 after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,786 new daily cases on Friday.

 The DOH said that the number of recoveries surged to 114,519 after it reported 616 more patients have survived the disease.

The death toll also climbed to 2,940 after 59 more patients have succumbed to the viral disease, the DOH added.

Laos 

One of the three remaining COVID-19 patients in Laos was permitted to return home after showing negative for the virus in the second round of testing.

The 32-year-old man from South Korea was discharged from hospital after recovery from COVID-19, Lao Ministry of Health said in a statement on Friday.

The patient was confirmed as the 20th COVID-19 case in Laos and was treated in Mittaphab Hospital since July 24.

Two other Lao patients are also being treated at Mittaphab Hospital. Both have only mild symptoms with no fever, according to the report.

As of Friday, Laos has tested 35,580 suspected cases with 22 positive, and 20 patients have recovered.


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